11 Breathing Tips for People With COPD

Medically Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on March 05, 2022

When you have COPD, it can be hard to breathe. Although there's no cure for the disease, there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to help with breathing and to keep your COPD from getting worse -- and to help you feel better.

1. Stop Smoking

If you smoke, quit. That's the most important thing you can do to stop more damage to your lungs. If you need help, ask your doctor for advice. It's also key to avoid secondhand smoke. Smoke irritates your lungs and makes it even harder to breathe.

2. Get Fresh Air

Try to avoid other things that can bother your lungs, too. Stay inside on days when you know pollution or pollen is bad. Stay away from fumes and dust.

3. Exercise

It can be hard to move when you can’t catch your breath. But regular exercise can improve your endurance and strengthen the muscles that help you breathe. Ask your doctor which exercises are right for you.

4. Eat Healthy Food

You're probably using more energy to help you breathe. A well-rounded diet will give you the strength you need to stay active and healthy.

5. Be Aware of Your Weight

Because it takes so much energy to breathe, you might be underweight. Your doctor can suggest supplements if a healthy diet doesn't help you get to a good weight. If you're overweight, losing extra pounds can make your breathing easier.

6. Avoid Chemicals

Skip scented products like soaps and perfumes. When you clean, use natural products without a scent. They might not bother your breathing as much.

7. See Your Doctor Regularly

Go to all of your checkups, even if you feel fine. It's important for your doctor to see how well your lungs are working. Bring a list of all your medicines to each visit. Make a note of any changes, and call if your symptoms get worse or if you have any new ones.

8. Take Your Medicine

Follow the treatment plan your doctor gives you. Take your medicine exactly as prescribed, and listen to any other advice they have on how to take care of your COPD. If you have any questions, be sure to ask.

9. Get Good Sleep

Sleep problems are common with COPD. It's partly due to breathing symptoms, but the medications you take can also play a role. Make sure you get enough good sleep so you stay healthy. Talk to your doctor about treatments you can get. Some drugs that can help you sleep might make your breathing worse.

Follow these tips to get better sleep:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Make your bedroom cool, dark, and comfortable.
  • Avoid caffeine in the evenings.
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex.

10. Prevent the Flu

Get a flu shot every year. Make sure to get your shot in October or November, before the flu season kicks into high gear. The flu and other respiratory infections can cause serious problems for people with COPD. You might want to ask your doctor if you should get a pneumonia vaccine as well.

If you live with other people, they should all get a flu shot, too. This will help prevent them from getting sick with the flu and passing the virus to you. A few other ways to prevent the flu:

  • Avoid crowded areas as much as you can.
  • Wash your hands often. Use warm water and mild soap, and lather for about 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your hands to your mouth, eyes, or nose to help keep germs out of your body.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Drink plenty of water.

11. Consider Oxygen Therapy

If your breathing gets bad, oxygen can help make it easier. With COPD, your lungs don't absorb oxygen the way they should, so they can't get it to the rest of your body. That makes it harder for your body and your organs to do their jobs. When you use extra oxygen, breathing is easier and you're able to do more every day.

Show Sources


CDC: "Breathing Better with a COPD Diagnosis," “Flu Symptoms & Complications,” “People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications.”

Respiratory Health Association: "Managing COPD."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:  "Now That You Know It’s COPD, Here's How To Breathe Better."

Mayo Clinic: "COPD: Self-management."

National Sleep Foundation: "COPD and Difficulty Breathing." “When COPD Symptoms Get Worse.”

International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: “Influenza infection in COPD,” “Occasional review: Influenza in COPD: pathogenesis, prevention, and treatment.”

COPD Foundation: “Staying Healthy and Avoiding Exacerbations.”

NPS MedicineWise: “COPD and Antibiotics.”

UpToDate: “Patient education: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) treatments (Beyond the Basics).”

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